Oh, he won't soon forget this one. And he let another one of those smiles go after the game.
This one was pure relief.
"It was a little bit of a roller-coaster ride," Russell said, no hyperbole intended. "It's baseball. Funny things happen."
It didn't come easy, and it certainly didn't happen as planned. But four hours and 28 minutes after center fielder Nate McLouth took ball one from Atlanta starter Tom Glavine, the Pirates had a 12-11 win over the Braves on Monday night -- a 12-11 gut-wrenching, emotionally driven and even stress-inducing victory in front of 45,269 fans at Turner Field to open the regular season.
How best to describe this one?
"It was ... I don't ... it was tough to describe, honestly," McLouth said afterward. "It was a circus."
Well, there's a start.
It seemed like Russell was primed to pick up win No. 1 with relative ease. The Pirates had chipped away at a two-run deficit to tie the game late. They had broken that 4-4 tie in the eighth courtesy of a solo homer from Xavier Nady and a three-run blast from McLouth. They added an insurance run in the ninth that put them up by five, seemingly ready to put the game in the books.
Everything was scripted perfectly. Or so it seemed.
"I've been around baseball long enough," Russell said. "A game's never over until it's over."
But with Russell summoning the most reliable bullpen arms he has, it sure appeared like it was about to be over. The tide quickly turned, however, when Damaso Marte and then Matt Capps couldn't find the strike zone.
Marte walked two. Capps came in and walked two more, the second with the bases loaded. A two-run single from Chipper Jones then brought the Braves to within two.
"It was just one of those days," said Capps, who had allowed 16 walks in 79 total innings last season. "Nothing felt right. It's something I can't explain. I was just holding onto it too long, letting go of it too early."
But Capps got the second out of the inning. And he set himself up to get the third when Brian McCann popped up what seemed to be a routine fly ball to left-center field. McLouth sprinted from center and Jason Bay ran forward from his spot in left, but he overran the eventual spot where the ball landed. It dropped in between the two outfielders.
"We were playing no doubles and both outfielders were running very hard and probably some miscommunication," Russell said.
Said McLouth: "I think it was just one of those things where I thought he was going to catch it, and he thought I was going to catch it. It was as simple as that. Unfortunately, it was just at one of the worst possible times.
Two Atlanta runners scored to tie the game at 9.
As the game went into extra frames, Russell called on Franquelis Osoria, the only reliever he had left with more than six games of big league experience. Evan Meek and Phil Dumatrait were the only other arms left in the bullpen.
The right-hander tossed two scoreless innings before Nady launched a three-run 12th-inning homer that would eventually seal the game that his eighth-inning shot couldn't earlier.
"I needed to find something that I could drive," said Nady, who finished the day with four hits -- three for extra bases -- and four RBIs. "I think it shows a lot of character of this team to stay in this game and to pull out the 'W.'"
His two-out, three-run blast off Atlanta's last reliever, Blane Boyer, gave the Pirates a lead that even a frenzied two-run Atlanta rally in the bottom half of the 12th inning couldn't match. With the win, Osoria picked also up his first Major League victory.
"Hats off to Frankie," Capps said. "Our guys never quit."
But with the way this game ended, storylines that had developed earlier in the evening were overshadowed.
There was a memorable performance from McLouth, who came into the game having been named the team's Opening Day center fielder only one week earlier. He went home on Monday night having reached base three times and matching his career high with four RBIs.
Monday's victory also marked the second straight Opening Day win for the Pirates, and for those who still have their scorebooks from a year ago, it'll show that it was the same two catalysts for the Pirates that night as well. And with it, there were no names etched into the Pirates' record books.
With available records going back to only 1956, McLouth and Nady have the distinction of being the only two Pirates teammates to homer on Opening Day in consecutive seasons. The last Pittsburgh player to do so was Barry Bonds in 1988-89.
It also marked the first Opening Day start of Ian Snell's career. He finished the day having allowed four runs in six innings of work.
But when the wackiness of what he witnessed wears off and the relief sets in, Russell will, at some point, be able to appreciate what happened on the first night he was able to put on that No. 7 uniform as a big league manager.
It just might take a while to sink in.
"I'm just happy J.R. got his first win," Nady said. "It's like Jason said, it wasn't how it was supposed to be drawn up, but it happened."